Iceland Part 2 – Churches and Religion: It seems logical that you would want to appeal to a higher power to protect you from the ravages of Iceland. Storms at sea, glaciers, volcanoes, winter storms, the total darkness of winter, all must have frightened the Vikings almost to death. When they arrived in the 9th century, the Vikings were pagans, primarily worshiping their ancestors. Around the year 1000, the Vikings gradually converted to Christianity and officially became a catholic country when their monarch, the King of Denmark, converted in 999. The reformation came to Iceland in 1550, when the catholic bishop was beheaded in Skalholt.
Today, 85% of the population are Christians, and 95% of the population are registered to some sort of religious group. However, only 10% of the population attend church regularly. It seems that the fear of nature has lessened with modern technology! Many people choose to remain registered in the national religion because a portion of their taxes are directed to the maintenance of the beautiful churches that dot the landscape. Icelanders are very proud of their churches. Most were built in the late 19th/early 20th century, although there are some modern churches (notably, the cathedral in Reykjavik).
One of the most beautiful churches in Iceland is the cathedral at Skálholt. Skálholt was, through eight centuries, one of the most important places in Iceland. From 1056 until 1785, it was one of Iceland’s two episcopal sees, making it a cultural and political center. There have been several predecessors to this building, but the modern church, built in 1956, combines the classic lines of an Icelandic church with a modern sweeping interior and abstract stained glass.
Skálholt Cathedral is one of the most important centres of choral music in Iceland, with an excellent church choir and a large male chorus based in the church.
Hallgrímskirkja, located at the top of a hill in Reykjavik, is the largest church in Iceland. State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson’s design of the church was commissioned in 1937. He is said to have designed it to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. It took 41 years to build the church. Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986, the landmark tower being completed long before the church’s actual completion.
In our tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsular, we saw many beautiful churches superimposed on the bleak landscape. Here are some of them: